If you’ve ever sustained an injury and didn’t have access to immediate medical attention, you probably received some form of first aid. This temporary medical assistance likely helped treat the injury and kept it from getting worse until you could get to a hospital or see your doctor.
Like physical injuries, mental health concerns and substance misuse can have serious health effects. They can cause lasting harm and may even lead to death. But these emotional injuries tend to be less visible, and it’s not always easy to identify someone who’s struggling.
A mental health first aid training class is a public education program that aims to teach people how to identify risk factors and warning signs of these concerns. During this 8-hour training, you’ll learn to recognize a mental health crisis, provide immediate support, and help people access resources for longer-term care.
As with first aid for an injury, mental health first aid is not meant to be a long-term solution. The support of a trained mental health professional is essential for people living with mental health concerns or working to overcome substance misuse.
A mental health first aid training class is a public education program that aims to teach people how to identify risk factors and warning signs of these concerns.
In your mental health first aid training, you’ll learn the five-step action plan, ALGEE:
- Assess for suicide/harm risk
- Listen non-judgmentally
- Give information and reassurance
- Encourage seeking professional support
- Encourage self-help and coping methods
Read on to discover how this looks in practice.
1. How to de-escalate a tense situation
Remaining calm is an important part of effectively handling a crisis. It can be challenging to help someone experiencing panic, hallucinations or other psychotic symptoms, or acute trauma reach a calmer state of mind if your mood is also elevated.
Someone dealing with acute emotional distress may talk about hurting themselves, which can be frightening to hear. Fear can cause some people to react with judgment, anger, or confusion. But these reactions can worsen a situation.
Mental health first aid training provides an opportunity to develop communication skills—both nonverbal skills like body language and verbal skills like knowing what to say. Knowing how to communicate compassionately can make all the difference when trying to reach someone in a crisis. You’ll learn to offer reassurance and respect, with an attitude that normalizes what someone is going through without blaming them. Role play activities during training give you the chance to practice applying these skills in a variety of scenarios.
2. How to gauge risk of harming self or others
You might worry someone living with depression or another mental health condition has a high risk of hurting themselves. Symptoms of certain mental health conditions, like schizophrenia, bipolar, or borderline personality disorder, are also often associated with increased risk of hurting the self or others.
It’s important to recognize the following:
- Most people with mental health conditions never harm anyone.
- Many people who have thoughts of suicide don’t plan to attempt suicide.
- Many people who self-harm don’t plan to attempt suicide.
However, it’s still important to talk to a trained professional about self-harming behaviors or suicidal thoughts. Recognizing certain warning signs can help you become more informed about when someone might be dealing with these challenges so you can better assess the possibility of harm. This can help you direct someone to the right resources.
Some possible warning signs of suicide include:
- Talking about dying, hopelessness, or feeling like a burden
- Talking about wanting a way out
- Withdrawal or isolation
- Rapid, dramatic, or significant mood changes
- Sleeping a lot or not enough
- Behaving in risky or extreme ways
Supporting a person experiencing hopelessness and thoughts of suicide might involve finding and reaching out to a therapist who can help them work through the underlying causes. But a person with a clear plan for suicide needs immediate, urgent help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can offer guidance at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), but you can also call your nearest emergency room.
3. Coping techniques
Coping and self-care techniques can help anyone manage distress, not just people living with mental health issues. But these techniques usually benefit those who experience emotional challenges regularly, since they can increase resilience and promote calm. People who use coping tools can often address symptoms before they become overwhelming.
During mental health first aid training, you’ll learn more about some of the many coping methods you might suggest, such as:
- Relaxation techniques
- Exercise or movement therapy
- Pet therapy
- Journaling, art, or music
- Peer and social support
- Cognitive behavioral self-help techniques
4. Supporting next steps and follow up care
Training in mental health first aid enables you to support someone through a mental health crisis or period of substance misuse. It doesn’t train you to provide long-term care or support. A key part of mental health first aid is learning how to refer people to the professionals who can offer the best type of treatment for their needs.
Depending on a person’s symptoms or concerns, you might help them locate any of the following types of health care professionals:
You can’t force anyone to seek treatment, but in mental health first aid training, you’ll learn how to encourage people to get help. This might include explaining how therapy or counseling can help or talking about available treatments. You might also help someone locate a nearby therapist or find a number for a clinic or helpline.
5. What to do when you, yourself, are in a crisis
Although you might find a profession that involves helping others find potentially life-saving support rewarding, you may also find it stressful. You might even feel drained or overwhelmed on occasion, as working with people in crisis can affect your own emotional wellness over time.
Mental health first aid providers help people learn to take care of their emotional health and access helpful resources when needed, but before they can offer this help, they must also know how to take care of their own well-being. By participating in a mental health first aid training course, you’ll be better positioned to recognize when your emotional reserves are running low. This awareness can help you know when to take time to recharge, prioritize self-care, and get help for yourself.
Awareness of mental health concerns and their varied signs and symptoms has increased in recent years. This awareness is a key factor in treatment. Compassionate understanding is another factor that’s just as important in preventing suicide.
Mental health first aid training teaches you how to offer this compassion and care as you help someone find resources for dealing with an immediate emotional crisis. Once they’ve weathered the immediate challenge, they can reach out for help. Compassionate therapists are only a few clicks away in our therapist directory, located here.
- ALGEE: The action plan. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/THE-ACTION-PLAN.png
- Frequently asked questions. (n.d.). National Council for Behavioral Health. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/faq
- Mental health first aid. (n.d.). National Council for Behavioral Health. Retrieved from https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/about/mental-health-first-aid
- Risk and protective factors. (n.d.). Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Retrieved from https://www.sprc.org/about-suicide/risk-protective-factors
- Stress management. (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/health-wellness/wellness-strategies/stress-management
- Wellness strategies. (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/health-wellness/wellness-strategies
- What you learn. (n.d.). National Council for Behavioral Health. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/take-a-course/what-you-learn
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